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I ask the questions and you give me the 411

USB Flash Drive Scam! What the?

OK… You hear a lot about knockoff products these days. I've always known about cheap imitations and copies of well known goods. One of the most famous is the old fake Rolex watch. Knockoffs of clothing and woman's handbags by Gucci and Prada for example are also widely known and accepted as cheaper or more affordable versions of the original. Not all of us can afford to buy a $120.00 pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses just to lose or sit on accidentally, so we might buy some RayBand sunglasses for $12.00 instead. We know that replicas of all types of products exist and we pay less for them expecting a lesser quality, which is OK because we know what we are buying, most of the time… for other sometimes… and for a few never. When a knockoff of a product does not perform the task of the original it is based upon, no longer is it called a replica or clone, but a rip off right? If you buy what you believe to be a product and it is totally different than what was advertised to you that could be fraud. There exists in this wonderful free market lots of high quality items selling with high prices, and when something is popular and sells well others will surely copy it if they can to cash in on the success of that product. I thought I had a grasp on this concept until I myself got scammed with a rip off product.

In today's society most of us in one form or another use a computer. A lot of us are familiar with computers and work with them daily. If your reading this you just may be using one now! As a PC user you may have need to transport documents, presentations, or company files from work to home and to other locations. One very convenient product being used today is called a USB Flash drive or PEN drive. This is a solid state device that plugs in to a USB port on your computer and contains memory to store files. They come in all shapes and sizes, colors and dimensions. Drives containing 32MB-512MB are readily available at most electronics stores and ones containing Gigabytes of storage are showing themselves to the market. They range in price from $9.00 to hundreds of dollars depending on capacity and features such as security encryption and read/write speed.

Recently I purchased what I thought were a couple of Sony brand 4 Gigabyte capacity USB flash drives. These drives were purchased through eBay.com from a seller located in Erie PA. After receiving them I immediately dropped one off to my cousin as we both needed one and I was volunteered to be the buyer of both. A few hours later at home I got a call from him saying that his died and was horrifically slow in transfer speed just before it croaked. Windows was reporting a wait of 10 minutes to transfer about 300 Megabytes. That is roughly 500K Bytes per second write transfer, which by today's standards is considered snail speed. The device was advertised as High Speed USB 2.0 and should have had a much higher transfer rate with 6-13Megabytes per second write capability. The Sony brand MicroVault models I had looked at on their web site boasted a 7MB per second write speed and 12MB per second read speed. I immediately tried mine and got the same results. After only one file transfer the unit I had failed also and was no longer usable. It took little time to figure out the products I got were not as they appeared. They looked real, and even had Sony packaging along with the Sony name printed on the product. The documentation has Sony all over it, except the model number did not match any info I could find. I should have known something was up before buying them but both myself and my cousin figured they were new models and just haven't been well documented yet. This mentality comes from dealing with generic computer components for 11 years.

My cousin even placed a call in to Sony using the very number listed on the documentation bundled with the drives. A Sony employee told him the model number (USM4024) did not exist in the database and they would have to investigate the matter further. He gave them a link to the auction page and that was that. So far no word from Sony.

I then began to research on the net as I should have done pre-purchase but hardly any of us do. I ran into some information posted by other individuals also scammed with the purchase of a nice fake Sony MicroVault flash drive. Here are a couple of the original links I stumbled upon that clued me in to the Flash Drive Scam currently going on.

Complete Contents
Everything I got with each drive. Looks pretty official

Back of insert

Back of insert

Front of insert

Front of insert
Blue drive sports a 4GB sticker inside Red Drives must have been forgotten :(
Notice one has some internal sticker saying 4GB the other has nothing.
For those who do not know USB has evolved in standards. Basically a low speed Version 1.1 (12MPS) to HIGH Speed version 2.0 (480MPS). The standards were made more confusing when the decision to re-label USB 1.1 compliant devices to USB 2.0 Full Speed and USB 2.0 to 2.0 High Speed. Just one more way to confuse those who are barely able to buy the right technology products based on current terminology as it is. For more info on USB go to http://www.usb.org/home
I instantly began the frantic search for answers as I stand to lose $308.00 US for these 2 useless products. Apparently these drives I got are actually 128MB and use USB 1.1 standards. Thanks to the 3rd link shown above I found what looks like the exact flash drives I got but not branded. A company called Shenzhen Gold East Technology Co., Ltd sells them. Their model is the F012 and comes in well... blue and red.
Original Flash Drives before being labeled as Sony
The drives being mislabled are reportedly preloaded with some sort of Trojan that acts to fool the Operating System into thinking the capacity is something other than the actual size. The consumer can plug the drive into a USB port and see that Windows for example is reporting the advertised storage space. All is well until a file larger than the actual capacity is copied onto the drive. It acts as though the copy process is going well and will finish, but anything beyond the memory available will just be bogus. Unfortunately I did not get much time to play around with the 2 units I so naively purchased, because both stopped working after the first Unplug-Plug in cycle. I did not get a chance to scan for a Trojan as other people have done. The OS reports no disk is available when any access to it is attempted.

Fake Drive with Sony printed on it - Blue Fake Drive with Sony printed on it - Red
The Sony brand printed on the fake USB drives.
Bundled lanyard with Sony printed on it
Even the lanyard bundled with the blue one has Sony printed on it. The other was solid black in color.

It amazing how much trouble these guys went through to make the things look like a Sony product. Also the additional trojan to fool the OS and report the fake size. I think the hope is most users will believe the product is merely defective and attempt to get support through Sony to no avail. This will waste time and allow the seller to keep on scamming.
Device Manager Volume Information
After I unplugged the device and plugged it back in no system will recognize the capacity.
I gave up trying to format the things when the iFormat utility just did not work and quite frankly i am not that interested in a USB 1.1 slow 128MB Flash Drive.
Since the OS would no longer allow me to do anything with the drive I identified the manufacturer with the help of a nice program called USB Info by Parallel Technologies.

Screenshot of USB Info drive properties window
CDROM 1 with drivers
Folders on CDROM 1

CDROM 2 with drivers
Folders on CDROM 2

The bundled driver CDs were a joke. The folder structure and contents were very unprofessionaly done and different on each one. This was a good sign that a major company did not author the media.
As you can see the manufacturer is not Sony but, iCreate Technologies Corp. The chipset seems to be the i5062 model, but I have not cracked one open to verify this assuming the seller will want them back before issuing a full refund and the iFormat utility available on their web site does not seem to work. The GUI would not show up. Instead after executing the iFormat.exe file a small amount of activity would occur but no GUI. Yee Ha!
Man is it too much to ask just to be able to use the 128MB on these things? I did pay $154.00 each for them!! That's 10 times the average street price for a 128MB Flash Drive.

I have seen this exact packaging on ebay for several similar items advertising various capacities. At the time of this post there were many new auctions being listed on ebay for a lot of these knockoff drives and other branded models such as Kingston and Sandisk. As for the sellers of these items... I would like to believe that some are just unaware these products are fraudulant.The seller I purchased from had 67 feedbacks with a 100% positive rating along with and identity verified status from ebay. The same day I received the products I emailed the seller and did not hear back until the following day. Too little too late in my book because I was steamed about getting ripped off and by then I had filed a dispute with Paypal.com for both auctions and left Negative feedback on ebay.com . Unfortunately ebay makes a buyer wait 10 days before filing a dispute to allow time for the seller and buyer to resolve the issue on there own. 10 days is quite a long to time to give a scam artist. In 10 days a dishonest seller could have several auctions completely processed and collected money already spent!

512MB Packaging2GB  Packaging

4GB  Packaging8GB  Packaging

Above are some of the Sony package variants I have seen being listed on ebay as of this post.
My advise for anyone looking for a product like this is to verify with the manufacturer that they in deed exist and the model numbers match. Get the exact specs and ask the sellers if they have tried the product they are selling. Find out what the street value is and compare it to what your going to pay. You know the old saying... I won't even say it :)
So now I want to know how these counterfit flash drives are ending up being sold in the US. Doesn't anyone check anything anymore? Please leave comments and give me the 411 on this!

Posted by Shawn Hill 8-31-2005

Update for Saturday September 3rd 2005

OK... after communicating with 3 different Sony employees about this item, I think it's pretty safe to conclude that they don't have a product even remotely close to the ones listed here. The drive casings and style are not Sony and all the capacity variants packaged the same are counterfeit fakes. Sony has no record of these items and will not warranty them. So do not buy one! Also I have gotten a couple responses from sellers on ebay.com stating that they have tested the drives and found them to be good after copying a couple of files. Remember the internal memory has to be filled up before you will get the truncated data. Do not just copy a couple of MP3s or word documents that are only 30k each to the drive. A single file or multiple files that contain at least half if not the full advertised capacity needs to be copied to the drive and read back. The internal memory chips within these units may have 128MB, 256MB, or if your lucky a 512MB actual size, although I can’t imagine being so lucky as to get a 512MB fake because it might actually be worth 30 bucks. To the sellers of these items: So far Sony employees can not verify the existence of the products you are selling as legit Sony models. Even if the drives worked and had the full advertised capacity they would be counterfeit and fraudulent knockoffs. The sale of these items would then be illegal and should not continue!

Posted by Shawn Hill
Update for Friday September 9th 2005
Wow... I have to say I am impressed at how a lot of the sellers are dealing with the auctions of these flash drives. To my surprise many sellers I have personally contacted lately have been very positive about receiving information regarding the counterfeit nature of the products they are selling. Many have canceled auctions to protect buyers and have begun to look back at the suppliers to get answers. I commend all the sellers who have taken it upon themselves to stop the sale of these fake flash drives and halt the flow of them into poor unsuspecting consumer hands. Big thumbs up!

On another note however I still see many auctions continuing even after the seller is informed that the items are not legit. A lot of these auctions are dealing in the GBP (United Kingdom Pounds) currency and list the items location as being in Hong Kong, Norway, and the United Kingdom. I am not an expert guys but I am pretty sure Sony would have applied for trade mark protection outside of the United States also making the falsely labeled products illegal to sell in your country. I could be wrong, I am not a Sony rep and personally have no interest in the company other than consumer electronics so far. I do not deal in stocks and do not have anything to gain from helping or not helping any entity associated with Sony. My only gain is the knowledge that I have helped at least a few people avoid getting ripped off and that just makes it a little more difficult for the dishonest suppliers to move their garbage. With that being said I am concentrating mainly on sellers located within the United States and maybe Canada since they are pretty much attached to us. I hope someone can focus on informing sellers outside of the U.S.

And a big thank you goes out to b777wolfman who has refunded me in full for both of the counterfeit flash drives I had received from him. After dealing with this particular seller I believe he was yet another victim that thought they got a great deal on some new high capacity flash drives that could be resold under retail. As a result the negative feedback I quickly left this seller was withdrawn and I used the recouped money to purchase two of the MEMINA brand 2GB Rocket USB Flash Drives Model # 829222190203 from Newegg.com . These drives were $142.54 each the day I bought them from Newegg.com and dropped to $139.99 the next day on there site. gurrrr! Oh well I am very happy so far with this product and believe it has a reasonable cost considering its speed. As you can imagine I researched this puppy up and down before making a purchase. The drive is rated with a 200X read speed ( 30mb per second ) and a 160X write speed ( 24mb per second ) and it delivers. I copied 1.5GB of data in the form of 2 VOB media files to the drive in just under 70 seconds! That's about 21.5mb per second write speed on large files which is what I transfer the most. The drive uses SLC ( Single Level Cell ) memory instead of the cheaper MLC ( Multi Level Cell ) memory found in slower less expensive flash drives and for those interested I have posted some info I found on these two memory architectures down below. I am in no way endorsing this particular drive or promoting any kind of product here and don't want this page to be mistaken for an advertisement. I am only sharing my experience with others and I will leave it at that.

I sure hope as many buyers as possible are able to regain there money and reinvest in some non counterfeit quality flash drives as I was able to. Also my hopes are that the sellers who are considered buyers by their suppliers will step up and try to re coupe there losses through the wholesalers and dealers instead of attempting to obtain money through dishonest sales. Eventually the consumers will find out and guess who they are going to contact? YOU!


Multi Level Cell (MLC) and Single Level Cell (SLC)

There are two types of NAND Flash memory architectures: Single-Level Cell (SLC) and Multi-Level Cell (MLC). SLC is the higher performing technology and is used to enable streaming video and Internet capability in handheld electronics such as 3G mobile phones, PDAs, digital cameras / video cameras and MP3 players.
In simple terms, MLC is cheaper, slower, less energy efficient, less durable (in terms of the number of program/erase cycles) and uses older technology than SLC.

Single Level Cell (SLC) and Multi Level Cell (MLC) Architectures
SLC architecture is straightforward, providing a significant performance advantage over MLC whose architecture is convoluted. SLC memory cards have one bit of data stored per memory cell and two states: erased (1) or programmed (0).
MLC memory cards have two bits of data stored per memory cell and four states: erased (11), two thirds (10), one third (01) or programmed (00). The complex architecture of MLC memory is a performance disadvantage when compared to SLC.

Single Level Cell (SLC) and Multi Level Cell (MLC) Efficiency
With only two states and one bit of data stored, SLC memory is able to conserve energy when managing the electrical charge during operations. This is why during the program operation SLC is much faster than MLC.
Since MLC has four states, and two bits of data stored, it must expend more energy to manage the electrical charge during operations. Applying higher voltage to program MLC degrades its memory cell characteristics. And with smaller margins, the chances of an incorrect reading are higher. Plus, due to leakage and other effects, the logic level of the cell may change. MLC must compensate with enhanced EDC (Error Detection and Correction).

Single Level Cell (SLC) and Multi Level Cell (MLC) Performance
The Data Write Rate of SLC is 3 to 6 times faster that of MLC.

Multi Level Cell (MLC) Single Level Cell (SLC)
Voltage 3.3 volts 3.3 / 1.8 volts
Chip Size 0.16 um 0.12 um
Page/Block Size 512B/32KB or 2KB/256KB 2KB/128KB
Access time 70 us 25 us
Page Program Size 1.2 ms 250 us
Number of program/erase operations 10,000 100,000
Write Data Rate 1.5MB a second 8MB a second

Single Level Cell (SLC) and Multi Level Cell (MLC) Longevity
As the table above shows, the program and erase operations of SLC last 100,000 cycles. By comparison, MLC program and erase operations only last 10,000 cycles. After 10,000 cycles, the reliability of MLC program and erase operations is not guaranteed.

Single Level Cell (SLC) and Multi Level Cell (MLC) Partial Programming
SLC allows for partial page programming, while MLC doesn't. For example, page size is usually 2 kilobytes. With SLC, smaller 512 byte sectors can be written all at once, which is more efficient as it saves space. When programming partial data with MLC, the whole 2 kilobyte page must be used.

Single Level Cell (SLC) and Multi Level Cell (MLC) Cost
Initially, the cost of SLC appears to be significantly more than MLC. But remember that, in terms of program/erase operations, SLC lasts 10 times as long as MLC.
In addition to this, the data write rate of SLC is up to 6 times that of MLC, so if you're a professional user and/or speed is important to you, the price premium could repay itself many times over the SLC memory card's extended life span.

Posted by Shawn Hill

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

USB Flash Drive Scam responses here

Friday, August 19, 2005

How come there are no quick gas buttons on fuel pumps?
How many times have you stopped to get gas for a car and only had 5 or 10 bucks? You have not gotten paid yet so using a debt card is out of the question or not much better than the change collected from the seats and floor. Now your at a pump and have to play the stupid ass quick release game with the nozzle. Slow the flow and stop it at the right amount. That game is fun once in a while and helps keep your hand eye coordination in tune, but it might be nice to have a preset button to press that would stop the pump automatically at a particular dollar amount! Why the heck is there not a couple of simple quick dollar amount buttons on a gas pump? It took a while but now the technology and brain power of our civilization has increased to the point where we now have Quick Cash options with ATM machines. Yee Hah… somebody please put a quick gas button on a fuel pump!!! I think there maybe room for 2 or 3 buttons… you think? How about a $5, $10, and $20 button?
I would love to be able to just hit a 20 spot button on the pump, pull the trigger and let it rip knowing it was going to shut off at my chosen amount and I wouldn’t have to look for that extra 3 cents in my car that I went over on the counter because I wasn’t quite good enough on the handle. So now that gas is steadily going up and up in cost, somebody needs to use that extra cash to reengineer those friggin pumps! Where are my buttons?

Why are we still driving in humongous heavy cars?
OK…another late night rant.
You ever wonder while driving around in a car how much technology, raw material and man power it took to create something just to cart your ass around? How many people were involved in the concept and refining of that car so you could just jump in it and mash on the accelerator to travel 15 miles for a loaf of bread that costs $1.99? Well?
How come in order to get to work I need a 4,000lb tank that takes antiquated fossil fuel to make it roll? The only thing I am missing is the gun turret and some shells. Don’t get me wrong I love cruising in my car, hell that feeling of independents is money well spent. My gripe is the fact that with current technology a single individual or even two should not need 2,500 to 4,000lbs of material to be moved from point a to point b. Not only do you have to burn fuel to move that weight but you burn fuel to carry the fuel! If your curious gasoline weighs a little over 6lbs per gallon. So, if your truck or SUV has and 18 to 20 gallon gas tank it’s like carrying around another 120lbs until you burn it off.
Obviously based on our current economic system and free market I will probably not be alive when these gas guzzling money sponges are replaced nationwide or world wide. Thanks in part to those ass munches at OPEC, who will continue to leech the market until fossil fuel is no longer a valuable commodity. No I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories and such. It’s simple economics, if something is in demand it has value. Until gasoline has no demand it will have value and sell for big bucks. This in turn equates to you and me rolling around in heavy cars that demand the money from our pockets!


August 2005  

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